Urban planner Andy Struckhoff on architecture’s language of community storytelling

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Newly-appointed President of PGAV Planners, Andy Struckhoff. // Courtesy photo PGAV Planners

PGAV Planners, an urban planning firm that completes projects across the Midwest and globally, has announced that 15-year team member Andy Struckhoff has been promoted to their new President.

PGAV Planners is behind many new developments in KC, such as the Smokey River Entertainment District.  The collective of designers, architects, and urban planners carries out projects including global entertainment venue destinations, as well as civic and academic institutions.

Struckhoff sat down with The Pitch for an interview about his responsibilities as President of an urban planning firm and his dedication to creating spaces that are accessible and that reflect the history and story of the people who will be using those spaces.

Struckhoff says he was educated as a journalist and worked as a freelance reporter for years before enrolling in  St. Louis University’s graduate program in Urban Planning and Real Estate Development. He worked for the city of St. Louis and for a local law firm before joining the team at PGAV. The people-first nature of the projects is what drew him to PGAV, Struckhoff says.

“[PGAV] is focused on planning and also implementation, helping communities figure out how to create a plan that can happen,” says Struckhoff. “We’ve been fortunate over the past few years to have been experiencing pretty steady growth, and one of the areas that we’ve been having a lot of growth in has been our community planning work.”

“There are three parts of PGAV,” Struckhoff explains. “There’s PGAV Architects in Kansas City, and then we have PGAV Destinations. They design theme parks, zoos, aquariums, generally what you think of as a tourism destination, and they have projects across the globe. And then Planners group, which I lead, and we do more community-focused planning and development and finance consulting, and that’s largely in the Midwest, but we’re also pretty well nationwide.”

Struckhoff’s past experience as a journalist transfers over to his work as an urban planner, as much of his work involves interviewing people who live in the neighborhood he’s working with to understand their history and hopes for the future and plan his projects accordingly.

“Our community planning work includes traditional comprehensive plans and neighborhood plans and those kinds of things. And in that work, we’re really focused on engagement with the community and helping their community see their neighborhood in many different ways,” says Struckhoff. “We want to hear from people in the community, what’s working for them, what isn’t working for them, what they like, what are challenges, what preferences they have for the future. We kind of layer all that information together, and then give back to the community their story.”

“Then we propose some changes to help the community’s physical environment be something more like the community wants to see in the future. We’ve been doing a lot more of that work in the past few years, and we’re really focused on growing that. It’s fun work,” Struckhoff says.

For example, PGAV Planners recently worked with the City of St. Louis on a project called the Economic Justice Action Plan.

“That was focused on working with the city to help them leverage the tools that they have at their disposal,” says Struckhoff.

The PGAV Planners team collected data, including interviewing community members, and created an “economic justice index” to help the city decide where to allocate resources and where to begin with renovation projects, Struckhoff says.

“We’re still in ongoing conversations with city leadership about how to implement that plan, but they’re already implementing changes as well, which is just great to see,” says Struckhoff.

PGAV Planners also works with the Tabernacle Community Development Corporation, led by Pastor Andre Alexander, advising their work in a disinvested neighborhood in North St. Louis.

“These areas have been victimized by redlining in the past, and now we’re helping get investment back there,” says Struckhoff. “And we’re not doing all the work, we’re just helping along the way. And we’re happy to do that.”

Struckhoff says his team is also currently working with the City of Independence on a “Tourism Master Plan.”

“A lot of it’s been focused on the history of the community, the national frontier trails and all the westward expansion trails that converged in Independence and went west from there, and what that means for the community’s history, and what stories they can tell,” says Struckhoff. “It’s about hearing those stories, and understanding how they fit together, and then understanding how the built environment within the city of Independence can help visitors experience that story.”

Representation is the goal for PGAV. Struckhoff says they strive to make “members of any community feel like the place reflects them in some way.”

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